Emory University appointed Professor of Church History and Director of International Initiatives Jonathan Strom as the next Mary Lee Willard Dean of Candler School of Theology. Strom will assume the role for the next two years, beginning on Aug. 1, according to a press release. He is succeeding current dean Jan Love.

Strom has worked at the theology school since 1997 and has contributed in “profound ways,” University President Gregory Fenves said in the press release.

“He is poised to carry the torch from Dean Love and keep Candler on its extraordinary trajectory,” Fenves said. 

Professor of Church History and Director of International Initiatives Jonathan Strom will serve as the next Mary Lee Willard Dean of Candler School of Theology beginning Aug. 1. Courtesy of Emory University

Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Ravi Bellamkonda announced Strom’s appointment on June 25. This followed a national search that spanned across several months, starting soon after Love announced in August 2023 that she planned to step down from her role before the fall 2024 semester. Love will rejoin the Candler faculty, but intends to take a sabbatical during the upcoming academic year and retire next summer.

“Following Dean Love’s incredible term of almost 18 years, we believe Jonathan Strom is the right person to enable Candler to continue fully pursuing the many ambitious efforts underway,” Bellamkonda said in the press release.

In an email to The Emory Wheel, Strom referred to Love as a “transformative” dean, citing her “rock-solid leadership” and “creative thinking.”

“She has recruited a diverse and distinguished faculty and a student body to match,” Strom wrote. “At the same time she has encouraged the school to explore and pursue innovative programs.”

Strom’s future efforts at Candler will include amplifying the school’s academic impact, increasing enrollment, expanding on hybrid degree programs and nurturing ties with The United Methodist Church (UMC). Emory has long maintained a relationship with the UMC, with the University’s Atlanta campus housing the Glenn Memorial Church and UMC leaders sitting on the Board of Trustees. The UMC made news in May when it announced decisions to lift a ban on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex weddings. Glenn already allowed same-sex weddings under Emory’s ownership before the change, although couples had to bring in their own officiants.

“Candler has embarked on some exciting new initiatives in recent years with La Mesa Theological Academy, Candler Foundry and new hybrid degree programs,” Strom wrote. “Helping these programs reach their full potential is a top priority.”

In 2015, Strom began serving as associate dean of faculty and academic affairs, after which he was promoted to senior associate dean of faculty and academic affairs in 2019. He remained in the role until 2022, also serving as dean in an acting capacity from 2019 to 2021 while Love served as interim provost. His research includes Pietism, which is a 17th-century German religious movement, Protestant clerical history and the appearance of modern forms of piety and religious practices. 

“I love Candler,” Strom said in the press release. “I have spent the overwhelming majority of my career here and care deeply about the school and its people. I am committed to doing everything I can to continue moving the school forward.” 

Strom is assuming the role as Candler navigates “disruptions in higher education,” the press release states.

Although the press release does not specify the nature of the mentioned “disruptions,” this comes after Emory faced national scrutiny for shutting down an April 25 pro-Palestinian encampment, during which law enforcement arrested 28 protestors. Candler was the site of a subsequent demonstration later that evening, when approximately 15 Candler community members, including students, alumni and a priest, locked themselves inside the building to protest the arrests of two Candler students at the encampment. Pro-Palestinian protestors attempted to push past law enforcement officers to join the demonstration inside the building, but officers forced the crowd back and deployed irritant gas.

On May 6, Strom signed an open letter from Candler faculty members published by The Emory Wheel expressing “outrage” at the University’s administrative response and use of Atlanta police at the April 25 protest. The letter implored the Candler community to “use this time of heightened conflict as an invitation to discernment and action.”

Beyond his work at Emory, Strom is well-known internationally among theological educators, according to UMC Bishop William McAlilly (81T), who sat on the search committee.

“He has a profound grasp of the ethos of Candler and the UMC,” McAlilly said in the press release. “I am excited to see Candler continue its commitment to forming leaders for the church and to academic excellence.” 

Strom said he was “thrilled” to lead Candler for the next two years.

“I’ve learned so much from the passion and engagement of our students over the years,” Strom wrote. “It will be an honor to serve as their dean!”

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Sophia Peyser (25C) is an environmental science and english + creative writing major from New York City. In addition to managing the Opinion and Editorial Board sections of the Wheel, she works as an intern at Science for Georgia and a radio DJ at WMRE. In her free time, she loves thrifting in remote corners of Atlanta and drinking lavender lattes at Victory Calamity + Coffee.